On the topmost circle we saw the places for the gilded posts from which an enormous awning was stretched above the assembled multitude. We also peered shudderingly into the dark dens where formerly wild beasts were made still wilder, and where gladiators, or possibly martyrs, awaited the signal which should summon them to struggle for their lives.
Not far from the amphitheatre stands a very different relic of the Roman citizens of Nimes. It is now known merely as the Maison Carree, but this name gives one no idea of its former use. It was originally a small but elegant Corinthian temple, dating probably from the reign of Antoninus Pius, but possibly from the era of Augustus. It is evident, too, that it was connected with other buildings whose foundations are still plainly visible, and probably formed part of the Forum of the city. A veritable gem of architecture this must once have been; for, notwithstanding its mutilation, one can plainly discern upon its walls the outlines of a delicately sculptured frieze, and its thirty elegant Corinthian columns show many traces of their former beauty. It has known strange vicissitudes in its eventful history; for it has served in turn as a pagan temple, a Christian church, a convent, a tomb, a Revolutionary tribunal, a warehouse, and even as a stable. But it has been finally rescued from neglect and vandalism and transformed into a museum of antiquities.
Corridor In The Amphitheatre.
Upon a hill above the city we saw another strange memento of the Past in a mysterious monument, nearly one hundred feet in height, the origin of which is still a matter of dispute. It once undoubtedly formed part of the ancient wall of the city, built by Augustus nineteen hundred years ago; but whether it was merely a tower of defense, or possibly a princely mausoleum, is unknown.
An interior staircase leads to the summit, and climbing thither we enjoyed a charming view of the Public Gardens of Nimes, thickly planted with shade-trees, among which are several handsome fountains. Standing upon this ruin, nearly twenty centuries old, and looking down upon the city, I realized what a singular blending there is here of the ancient and the modern. For closely adjoining the beautiful gardens, handsome boulevards, and bright cafes which make of Nimes a miniature Paris, are monuments which forcibly remind one that pagan Rome still lives here, though apparently dead, and that at every step we tread the dust of the old Roman World.
The Ancient Tower, Nimes.
Thus in one corner of the park, where children romp and Offenbach's music floats upon the air, are the remains of a graceful Roman temple, dedicated to the nymphs, and built here during the reign of Augustus; and one can see within its walls, upon a marble altar, some of the old bronze vessels, half corroded from age and exposure, on which the priests formerly burned incense to the fair deities of the waters. The principal fountain also of the park on which the modern tourist looks with pleasure, supplied a Roman bath at Nimes, and at the time of Christ, poured forth its limpid stream as freely as it does to-day.
Even if Nimes itself were uninteresting, which it is far from being, it would well repay the traveler to halt here, if only to visit, a few miles distant, one of the finest relics of her power which ancient Rome has left in Europe, - the Pont du Gard. I shall never forget the moment when, turning the corner of a sombre gorge, I suddenly beheld above a mass of oaks and olive-trees the form of this stupendous Roman aqueduct. It is a granite chain uniting two mountains, and crossing the gleaming waters of the river Gard in a series of perfectly preserved arches, the highest of which rises one hundred and sixty feet above the gorge. Of all the Roman aqueducts that I have ever seen, including that of Segovia in Spain, none has impressed me like the Pont du Gard. So solidly is it construct-ed, that even now, after the lapse of nineteen hundred years, it is still well-nigh perfect, and joins the opposite hills with skillfully fitted blocks of stone, so huge that one conjectures in amazement how they could ever have been placed in their position.
The Ruined Temple Of The Nymphs.